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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Traveling around Togo Style

So I’ve been meaning to blog for a while because November has just been crazy, but for whatever reason I just haven’t sat down to do it.  So now I will try to recap the last month for you all.  
So after my training in Pagala I returned back to village but not for too long.  I was in village for about 2 weeks then I headed down south for the swearing in of the newest training group that arrived in Sept.  I took the post bus down south and was able to meet two other volunteers on the bus who were coming down as well but who live further up north than I do.  So the three of us were together on the bus.  Now the post bus is the bus the govt. recently put in place through the post office and is pretty much the best option to get anywhere in country on the main route comfortably.  It’s not much more costly than a bush taxi, you get your own seat, it’s air conditioned, and you get a croissant and bottle of water on the bus.  Pure luxury in Togo! However, this trip on the post bus turned out to be a very Togolese experience.  Things first started looking bad immediately after I boarded the bus and was informed by the two other volunteers I would be traveling with that the 3 people surrounding them had been throwing up the whole trip so far.  Shortly after we left Kara the drivers assistant had to stand up and make an announcement to the group that went something like this. 
We have a problem with vomiting.  Please do not eat any of the fish that you might buy or have boughten between Mango and Kara.  If you do buy any fish for the remainder of the trip please wait until you get to your final destination before eating it.  If you do have to throw up please inform the driver and we will stop.  
So apparently it’s the fish causing the vomiting and not the gigantic pot holes in the road, the constant swerving of the bus, or the fact that the A/C stopped working and it was just getting hotter and hotter.  But I digress.  So even after that speech was made, the people surrounding us continued to throw up for the remainder of their trip, never once asking the driver to stop.  So at this point the trip has already started off on the wrong foot.  But I’m still in good spirits, after all this is Togo and this is still better than a bush taxi and I’m amongst friends.  Then I realize we were never served our croissant and bottled water.  I hadn’t brought any water with me on the bus since I was supposed to receive it upon leaving from Kara.  No worries I think though, I’ll just grab a water sachet in Sokode.  Well we arrive in Sokode and I can’t find water anywhere for some odd reason. Usually it’s being shoved in my face every where I turn. I go ahead and get back on the bus assuming I’ll just find it the next time we stop for a quick break. So away we go again vomiting passengers and all.  We get pretty far without any events, but unfortunately this was just not our travel day.  About 8 km north of Atakpame our bus pulls to the side of the road, our driver gets out and doesn’t say a word to anyone.  Danny the friend I was traveling with decides to jump out to stretch his legs so I follow and we see the driver opening up the engine.  It appears we’ve broken down but the driver has decided not to tell us.  So I go in one direction over to a boutique I see to see if they have any water while Danny wonders off in the opposite direction to see what he can find.  We’re in a very small village that you’d pass in the blink of an eye, but seeing as there is a boutique there I’m hopeful.  I’m informed by the boutique they don’t have any water but to go down to the bar a little further down the road.  I started walking that way and run into Danny.  He was informed “there’s no water in village”.  Still hopeful I go to the bar I see and ask them if they have water.  Nope, beer, apple juice, or sodabe (locally mad alcohol).  Danny opts for a shot of sodabe while I wait then still optimistic I have him cross the street with me to see what’s on the other side of town.  Still no water, but we did find Tchouk.  Seeing as the bus at this point showed no signs of leaving any time soon and I couldn’t find water I figure the only way to make this situation bearable was to sit down with a calabash of Tchouk, naturally!  And what did I find just in front of the Tchouk stand, tofu! Things were starting to look up again.  So with my Tofu and my Tchouk we sat down to make the best of this break down.  Michelle, the other volunteer, came over to join us and from the Tchouk stand where waited out the break down through several calabashes.  Unfortunately by the time we had gone through our fill of Tchouk the bus was still nowhere near ready to leave.  We sat around the bus waiting for a bit, then Danny and I noticed two guys dancing on the other side of the street to some music coming from a straw hut.  So of course, the only thing we could do was to go over and dance with them.  Michelle came over and joined us as well and before long I’m pretty sure the entire village was surrounding us watching the yovos dance.  Being white/foreign we’re a spectacle anywhere we go, the smaller the village the bigger a spectacle we are.  Put more than one of us together and that’s an even larger spectacle, so I can only imagine their excitement at 3 white people dancing on the side of the road in their tiny village.  We must have danced for at least an hour, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in Togo.  However, it naturally had to be ruined by people then starting to ask us for money.  At that note and because I was so sweat covered and tired by that time I decided the dance party was over and went back to check on the bus.  Still no signs of being ready to get on the road again.  At this point it’s now dark (we’re not supposed to travel at night) and the regional director for the post office has come out to access the situation.  He’s also brought out some water sachets after a group pitched a fit about not having received water or a croissant on the bus.  So now at least my thirst is quenched. For the next 1 to 2 hours it’s just a lot of arguing with the director and him insisting the bus will be fixed in 10-15 mins and there’s no need to call in a new bus.  Back to the fact that we’re not supposed to travel at night and it’s now   8 p.m. and we’ve been sitting there for 4 hours.  Michelle calls our safety line to see what we should do, whether we should get motos to Atakpame and stay at the Peace Corps house there or wait out the bus.  Ultimately they decide we should stick with the bus and that’s probably our safest option.  So we continue to wait and wait until finally the bus is fixed and we’re on our way again, 5 hours after the break down.  I finally got to Tsevie at about 11 p.m. where I was going to spend 2 nights with my friend Tamara before heading down to Lome for the ceremony.  Michelle and Danny continued on to Lome and didn’t make it there till midnight.  As I always say, everything is an adventure in Togo!  
The next day in Tsevie I hung out with Tamara some and then the two of us went over to visit our host families.  We stopped in to visit her host family first just to say hello.  It was really great seeing them again and seeing how happy they were to see me again.  From there we went over to my host families house for lunch.  They were so excited to see me and it was great seeing them again.  They gave me a wonderful welcome and as expected were very excited to see how much weight I had gained. So much so they pulled people over to see how fat I was and continued to comment on my weight gain all while I was eating lunch.  Really glad I made them so proud, but not so happy about my weight gain.  After lunch I just hung out with my family some catching up and then went over and visited some of the other host families and current trainees.  That night Tamara and I went back to the bar we always visited all during training and it was just really nice being back there.  
The next morning we got up and went to Lome for the swearing in ceremony for the newest volunteers.  While it was great seeing so many volunteers again and being able to shop in Lome where I can get just about everything I’d want or need and get really good food, I realized I love Kara, I love Pagouda and I despise Lome.  I was very thankful that Kara is my regional capital and not Lome.  Lome is just overcrowded, filthy, and way too expensive for our salaries. So needless to say I was really excited to get back to Pagouda. For the way back I was able to hop in the bush taxi taking the new volunteers to their posts which Peace Corps rented so it was a fairly comfortable ride.  However, as I said before, everything in Togo is an adventure and the return trip had to live up to that rule.  We were probably less than an hour from Kara when we were forced to pull to the side of the road and sit there for at least an hour while they closed the road since the President was coming through to take a look at the construction project that was just in front of us.  So unfortunately after that delay we wound up not getting to Ketao until almost dark, but thankfully I was still able to find a car back to Pagouda and make it back home that night. And that was the end of that adventure.  
After this trip I was really only in village for about a week or just shy of a week before heading out to celebrate Thanksgiving.  I left on Wednesday night and went in to Kara to cook my apple pies at the American Missionaries house.  I had dinner with them, a great dinner as always, made my pies (which turned out great!) and the next morning met up with a few other volunteers in my region and we grabbed a car and headed down to Adjengre which is the town of another volunteer.  Justin put together the Thanksgiving dinner at a hotel in his town and about 43 volunteers all gathered there for the celebration.  We had 4 turkey’s, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pasta salad, 7 or more pumpkin pies, 5 or 6 apple pies, pumpkin muffins, brownies, cookies, everything! It was delicious and lots of fun.  The next morning we got up and headed back to Kara.  Tamara came back with me and spent the next 3 days with me in my village.  Then her and I turned around and headed back down to Pagala for our second and last round of training.  For this training we brought along a Togolese counter part with us.  I invited a woman from my village that I find to be very progressive and intelligent and someone who has a lot of potential.  I’m not sure how I’ll work with her yet, but I definitely want to work with her on some projects in some way so that’s why I invited her.  Overall training was fun, as always it was great seeing everyone again and it wasn’t as awkward as I thought it might be having the Togolese counterparts with us.  
So that pretty much brings me to where I am now.  I’ve been back from training for almost a week now.  Since being back I’ve started up my English clubs and have just been working on my house.  I’ve now somehow committed myself to 5 English clubs, with 3 of them being back to back on Wednesdays!  I’ll start Wednesdays at 3 with the 6th and 5th levels (beg. English), then at 4 take the 4th and 3rd levels, then I move to the high school and do a club for the high school students starting at 5.  Then the next week I’ll go and do my club at the neighboring town’s intermediate school.  Thursdays I go to the other intermediate school in my town and do a club with them.  It’s a lot of English club and more than I wanted to do, but that’s what they’ve asked for and I’m here to do what they need not what I want to do. So now that brings me to today.  Tomorrow I’m heading in to Kara for the day/night for a Christmas cookie exchange at the missionaries house.  I’m pretty excited as that will pretty much be my only taste of a traditional Christmas and well I always just enjoy going and visiting with them.  It’s been kind of weird this holiday season since this is the first holiday season I’ve been through where I haven’t been surrounded by holiday decorations.  Never realized till now just how much all the decorations really do help set the holiday spirit. I’ve been through warm Christmas’ before, but being warm and no decorations makes it really hard to remember it’s the holiday season. But thanks to several packages from home I do have my little Christmas section in my house.  
Well happy holidays to you all!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ways in which I've changed over the last 6 months

  1. I’m not surprised when the key falls out of the ignition of the taxi while it’s driving. 
  2. I am surprised when there is an actual key to the taxi. 
  3. The idea of shopping makes me not want to leave the house. 
  4. I have first hand understanding of why celebrities go crazy. 
  5. Taxi rides are probably the most uncomfortable and stressful situations in my life and usually involve an argument. 
  6. I hand wash everything (floors, dishes, clothes, etc) 
  7. Bowel movements, whether it be frequency and consistency or lack thereof, is primary conversation amongst me and my friends. 
  8. I have no shame in being a member of the level 10 club. 
  9. I love the rain and all the goodness it brings despite the negatives it also brings.
  10. My usual tardiness actually makes me ridiculously early for any meeting. 
  11. I’m noticing my hygiene level becoming questionable now that it’s dry season and water is more difficult to access. 
  12. I can call someone creepy to their face and they don’t have a clue what I’m saying. I do this on about a daily basis. 
  13. I have more marriage proposals than I know what to do with. 
  14. I go to bed at 9 p.m. and sleeping till 7 a.m. is the equivalent of sleeping till noon now. 
  15. I actually eat based on what’s in season, not what I have a craving for. 
  16. I scramble to get indoors as soon as it starts getting dark. 
  17. I plan travel to smaller villages based on market days so I know I can get a car. 
  18. I consider it a good taxi ride when there isn’t a passenger sharing the seat with the driver. 
  19. I use the rain as an excuse for not doing anything.  
  20. I get called the equivalent of whitey everywhere I go. 
  21. I apparently become someone’s best friend just by walking past them on the street. 
  22. I’m shocked and confused about what’s wrong when a 15 seat bus only has 16 passengers. 
  23. If traveling means traveling within country I have no desire to actually do it. 
  24. I’m excited about the fact that hot season is so dry and so hot that your sweat evaporates immediately therefore never leaving you sweaty. 
  25. I’ve reverted back to my childhood and get super excited anytime I hear the fanmilk horn much the way I did when I heard the ice cream truck’s song.  In fact I even include the fanmilk sellers amongst my list of friends.  
  26. Every time I leave the house and leave my dog out in the yard I’m seriously worried someone is going to steal and eat him. I’ve been told this is a legitimate concern. 
  27. I'm not at all surprised to find rocks and/or bones in my food even if there is no meat in the dish. 
  28. I have the ability to both make a kid scream and cry or stop crying just by being present. 


So this past week I travelled down south to Pagala where after nearly 3 months at our posts my training group all met up again for a week of training.  Since we weren’t supposed to leave our regions during our first 3 months it was the first time since swear in that I was seeing almost everyone from my training group that I had spent nearly everyday with for my first two months in country.  It was great to see everyone again and finally make it to the end of our 3 month region lock down.  Everyone knows I get antsy when I can’t travel or even just knowing that I can’t makes me antsy so it’s really exciting knowing I’m now free to not only move about the country as needed but to also now be able to leave country on vacation as I choose.  This also marks 5 months that I’ve been in country now which is shocking.  The time is going by so quickly and I can’t believe that by the end of January I’ll already be 1/4 of the way down with my service here. It really is true what they say that the days go by slowly but the months fly by.  
Since it’s been a while since my last blog you might be wondering what I’ve been up to.  Well I still haven’t started any projects or done any trainings but am in the process of starting an English club after school to teach English to students of every level.  I’m hoping to get that started next week after I’m back from training.  Otherwise I’m still in the interview/discovery phase of all of the groups and organizations in my town to try and best understand their work and where I might be able to help them.  I’ve also visited a school in Madjatom (photos on my facebook page) that has asked for my help on building them a school building since they currently conduct classes in straw structures.  They really impressed me by taking their own initiative to create an intermediate school in their town after recognizing that many students were not continuing school after primary school and then leaving for Benin (the town is on the border of Benin and Togo) to do domestic work since their parents couldn’t afford to send them to the neighboring town to attend school and pay for their lodging and/or transportation to and from and there was nothing more than a primary school in their village.  So everyone in the community now comes together and pays dues once a year that goes into a collective fund to pay for the school supplies, chalk boards, straw structures, and salaries of a few professors to create an intermediate school for their children.  They’ve been doing this for 4 years now and the state has finally recognized them as a school but has not sent them any funding or teachers, just a director for the school.  I was very wary of doing any sort of funded project and still am, however, I’m seriously considering working with them to get proper buildings and supplies for their school since they did take the initiative on their own to do what they could instead of waiting for a handout or just letting the problem continue.  So that’s something that is on my list to start looking into more in the next few months and deciding in what capacity I feel I can help them.  I should also start working on trying to get the weavers that in my village more organized over the next few months as I want to bring them to the trade show next year down in Lome and they have a lot of work to do before they’re at a level to present themselves well enough at the fair.  While it may not seem like I’m doing much I actually do feel pretty busy and see a lot of possibilities in my town and don’t think I will ever be too bored here!  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Cadeau!

“I got gifted some really nice lettuce and cucumbers this morning!” Those actual words filled with excitement came out of my mouth Monday afternoon while talking to Virginia. She then stopped me laughing pointing out that never in the U.S. would I have uttered those words let alone with such excitement.  But now when it’s a bit of a challenge to find lettuce and cucumbers I get pretty excited just to find them, so you can only imagine my excitement to have been given some of the best quality I’ve yet to see for free by my neighbor who’s a retired gardener.  As I’ve already said several times since being here, the Togolese are just very generous and it still surprises me how much they give especially considering how little they have.  In the last week I’ve been gifted lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, an insane amount of green beans and peanuts, bananas, tofu, and a bible (in French). And of course on pretty much a daily basis I’m gifted Tchouck which is their local fermented drink made of millet, which is slowly creating an addiction (tastes like a fermented cider). And in addition to that my gardener neighbor has offered to plant any seeds that I buy out at his garden and he’ll bring me the veggies once they’re ready.  Says he’ll help me plant a small garden in my yard if I decide to do that as well.  He also gets rid of all the weeds that sprout up around my house which helps keep snakes away and just makes everything look nicer.  I find myself on a daily basis just trying to figure out what I can do to pay everyone back for all their help and cadeaux they give me.  I’m really just not sure what I can do yet but it does give me motivation to work as hard as I can to help as many people here as I can even though I know that given the state of Togo all I can really do is make a tiny difference in maybe a few people’s lives.  To really give these people what they need there needs to be some top level changes that we as volunteers just have no control over.  It’s actually really frustrating because I want so much for them after seeing their generosity on a day to day basis.  Well enough with that talk though, not much I can do but do my best and hope that one day those top level changes start taking place.  

Saturday, September 04, 2010

23/8/2010 - It’s raining!

It’s funny how you change your feelings towards things depending on the situation you find yourself in.  In San Francisco I hated the rain because it meant walking in it to get to and from the bus, waiting for the bus in the rain, then getting on a soaking wet bus with everyone either wet or getting you wet with their umbrellas.  Then upon reaching my destination it usually included having my umbrella flipped inside out which I’d be thankful that’s all that happened and it didn’t get torn apart or ripped out of my hands by the insane wind tunnels created by the buildings of downtown San Fran. In L.A. it was a matter of having to deal with drivers who have never seen rain and really aren’t quite sure what to do about it.  Paris was about the same story as San Fran minus the extreme winds. And well Houston, it was welcomed sometimes and not so welcomed other times. For it either meant flooding or was helping with the drought. Now I find myself in Togo and I find myself waking up everyday saying “man I hope it rains today”.  Here rain means it’ll actually be somewhat cool, the Togolese will tell you it’s cold and to put a jacket on, while to me it just means I actually won’t sweat while it’s raining or overcast.  Rain also means free water! I don’t have to worry about sending someone to the pump for me and paying them or paying for my water.  Not that either are really that expensive, it’s just easier when it just comes falling from the sky and involves no money at all (I have buckets that I collect rain water with and large 100 liter bins inside in which I store my water in case you’re wondering).  And to the lazy side of me it means a guilt free day where I can sit inside and do whatever I’d like not having to worry about going out in the town since no one does anything here when it rains.  They think I’m crazy if I even attempt going out in any sort of rain.  So inside I stay reading a book or napping! Of course there are the downsides to the rain here as well and I’m sure many times I will come to hate the rain.  The roads become horrible and many of them become impassable in which case you may not be getting to your destination.  The people do nothing when it rains, which again means you may not be getting to your destination if you’re trying to travel or may mean no one will show up to your meeting or your training.  And there is of course flooding here as well.  It’s just such a relief from the heat though that so far it’s hard to not love the rain!   


So today I went to church for the first time in my town of Pagouda.  I had attended church in Tsevié with my host family but they were Catholic so I was going to Catholic church.  In Pagouda there is actually a Baptist church so I went there this morning along with the Secretary of the CVD (The agency involved in community development that I will work with probably).  Apparently the Pastor is an American who has been here in Togo with his wife since 1986!  He lives in the regional capital of Kara with several other Baptist missionaries but he comes out to do the service at my town and every other Monday his wife apparently comes out and has a meeting with the women of the church.  He unfortunately didn’t make it out today and instead sent a Togolese man he works with to do the sermon, but I hope to meet him and his wife next time and attend one of his wife’s meetings to see what she talks about and if I can somehow highjack some time from the meeting once I start giving trainings and at least talk to these women about whatever I choose to discuss.  Why I put it like that is that it’s apparently very difficult to get Togolese to attend a meeting and to continue to attend any sessions volunteers put on.  So a suggestion from current volunteers is that if there are any set meetings that people are attending then try to see if you can get some time at that meeting to discuss what you want to discuss instead of trying to form a group/meeting on your own.  Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.  I just found it interesting that this American has been out here for so long.  Apparently he raised his children out here, sent one back to the U.S. for schooling who has since come back to work at another church somewhere near here.  He also apparently has his own private plane and is a pilot.  I must find my way on to this plane within the next two years! 
After church, having realized that I eat tons of soja/tofu, the Secretary took me directly to the house of one lady who makes soja so I could buy some for lunch since she hadn’t yet come out to the market to sell it.  So now I have one spot where I know I can go to look for my tofu.  There is a woman who makes it that lives very close to me.  Her house has been pointed out to me but I’m still not sure which one it is since it was off in the distance in a field with about 3 other houses when it was pointed out to me.  My goal this week is to find her house and work something out to get tofu from her daily or every other day so then I’ll have two spots for getting my tofu.  Next I’ll have to see about finding out who has eggs I can buy when needed.  So far I mostly get all my eggs from the next town over, Ketao, where my closest neighbor is. However, it’s either an hour bike ride to Ketao or a short taxi ride that costs a little over $1 round trip, which doesn’t sound like much but that adds up and could feed me for a day or even more.  I did get an egg carrier though so I can stock up on the eggs when I am in Ketao.  Ketao also has the good chicken eggs, so far in my town I’ve only found guinea fowl eggs which are smaller and the shells are super tough (I have to use a knife to even attempt to crack it!) and they’re almost all yolk.  But I’m thinking it might still be good to know who sells them and where they live so if I don’t make it to Ketao one week then I can still get some eggs.  
I wasn’t feeling so great today and hadn’t sleep well during the night since my stomach was hurting so much, so after all that I just returned home and napped for quite a while (feeling mostly back to normal by night and thinking I was just dehydrated. Staying hydrated here is just really tough and I’ve been slacking off on my water drinking lately and did a lot of physical activity this last weekend). Later in the day I started shelling some fresh peanuts Katie gave me on Friday and then made my first attempt at roasting my own peanuts on the stove.  It took quite a while shelling what I did and I didn’t even finish, but I guess this is what you do when you don’t have a T.V and you have nothing but time on your hands!  I think they turned out pretty good too.  I think I should have let them dry a little before putting them on the stove so maybe I’ll try that with the remaining peanuts later this week and see if they turn out any differently.  But what I have is still pretty tasty and it was a fun little project for the afternoon.  
I also talked to someone today about being my Kabye instructor.  I’m thinking I’ll start that up in September and really force myself to make the effort to learn Kaybe.  I’ve been a bit of a brat about it and not studying it on my own nor trying to use what I do know.  It’s just so weird to me that their official language is French and yet many don’t speak it, or speak it well at least, and they speak local language instead.  So you have this tiny country that has 61 local languages! Which means lots of people within this country cannot communicate with each other if they go somewhere that doesn’t speak their language and they don’t speak French well enough.  Granted they don’t travel within their country much so it isn’t a problem for those that don’t speak French usually. I’m a firm believer in language being a huge part of ones culture, but I wish there was more of an effort to speak more French to really unite the country better. I’ve also just been a brat about it because they will just talk to me in Kabye knowing I don’t speak it yet and never translating anything but just saying it over and over in Kabye like I’m actually going to learn it that way.  Then they just seem shocked when I forget something that they taught me the previous day but that was only mentioned once and never written down for me.  Not to mention that someone tries to teach me a ton every day and there’s just no way I’m going to remember it all.  Then they just try to tell me that it’s easy and I’ll learn it super fast. When I try to explain to them that it’s not easy since it’s in no way related to my maternal language nor to French and the sounds are all very new and difficult for me to form and the fact that it’s tonal based and I have a really hard time hearing the tones, they still tell me it’s easy and don’t seem to understand just how hard it is to learn another language. They all think that within a few weeks I’ll be speaking like a native. I think I’m just frustrated by the constant pressure to learn their language that I get from several people daily.  Considering I already learned one language that would enable me to speak to them here it frustrates me that they demand that I learn yet another in order to communicate with one culture group of Togo and don’t seem appreciative that I at least speak French.  But I will make the effort, I just need to get over my frustrations with the pressure.  It’s just a little overwhelming at first since it is so different from any other language I’ve ever spoken or studied.  And knowing that outside of Togo it’s a completely useless language removes some of the motivation as well.  But the current volunteers all say you can do so much more work here by knowing how to speak the local language so that at least gives me some motivation.  I’m at least at an advantage where I don’t need French tutoring but can go right to local language.  Peace Corps will reimburse us for tutoring costs, but many volunteers use that for French tutoring since many come in with either no or very little French.  So at least I can use my money to go towards local language right away and hopefully get a pretty decent level of local language within my first year.  On verra! 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Photos posted!

Posted an album on facebook, find them here!

If you can't access them let me know and I'll try to post them somewhere else next time.  Will try to do the captions next time too so you know what you're looking at.  

Random thoughts from Togo

So a story I forgot to mention in my last blog was that I have had yet another meal where I had to watch my meat killed in front of me before eating it.  It happened during post visit on one of my last days my counterpart decided to cook lunch for me.  She asked me if I ate chicken and I said I only eat it if it’s very well cooked.  I immediately regretted it and wished I had said I only eat tofu; I knew what would be coming after I said I eat chicken.  She had me over to her place, where I saw her son kill the chicken, then drain the blood, then bring it over to us where she plucked it in front of me and then ripped it to pieces with her hand and a knife throwing the pieces into the pan on the fire.  Thankfully after preparing my lunch for me she sent me home with what she prepared so I at least could pick at the chicken and only eat what I wanted from what she gave me and didn’t have to hide any disgusted face that I might make.  The chicken was horrible, but I survived and have another fun food story to add to my list!  
So far things are going good and I’m managing to keep myself fairly busy despite not really being able to work on any projects.  I mostly just go out and meet with people just to get to know them before really starting to work with them.  So far I’ve met with the  group of women who make soap and watched them make soap, met with the group of weavers and watched/chatted with them for a while (they’ll be my main focus once I get going on projects), and met with the group of women who make shea butter and watched them make their product.  I’m returning next Monday to see the beginning process of the shea butter since I missed it this week.  I’ll then be meeting with the Social Affaires office next Monday too to discuss how I can work with them on their projects since they often do many of the same type of projects that I would do.  Then next Thursday I’m going to sit in the office of the micro-finance institution here to see how they work and see if there is anything I can do there to help.  Other than that it’s a lot of just walking around town, visiting the market, and exploring some to see what all is in my town.  Tuesday of this week I road my bike to my closest neighbor’s house, which is 15 km (9 miles) away from my house. It was a beautiful and pleasant bike ride and one I hope to do often.  Little bit of a challenge with a few hills but considering how hilly it is in my area it’s pretty flat between our two towns so that’s good.  I spent the night at her house and then hung out with her the next day and another volunteer who had come up and then hit up her market that afternoon as she has one of the largest markets in country and I can get fruit there and have more veggie options at her market than in mine.  Then rode my bike back and just hung out at home the rest of the night.  Friday I went to my second closest neighbor’s house, which is about 24 km (15 miles) away on the same road as my closest neighbor’s house and in the direction of our regional capital (Kara).  She informed me how I can set up my own compost pile and plant my own garden.  She also fed me an awesome lunch and baked me m&m cookies!  Afterwards I continued on to Kara for a meeting with other volunteers to plan Club Espoir which is a club for kids who are infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS.  Then this morning we had the club for the kids.  It’s a monthly event which I hope I can participate in often in the future.  It was really fun watching the kids play and have a good time.  
I still don’t have my furniture but hope to get some pieces within a week and a half.  I can’t wait till I have it all, especially my bed.  I don’t sleep to well on my cot, or maybe it’s the heat and strange noises, or just a combo of it all.  My time here is really going to be a test of my patience as everything is at a much slower pace here and just overall difficulties in communication with the people here.  They tend to 1. speak in generalities or be very vague, which is very frustrating at times. (Ex: The other day he came by your house and you weren’t there.  Who? When? Why????) 2. Give you a response to a question even though they have no idea (Ex: We’ll have your electricity installed tomorrow. Me: Oh really, the electrician is coming tomorrow?  Togolese: Oh I don’t know, we should ask.) 3. call us all whitey, which is really annoying coming from adults, but can be cute coming from kids.  They have the word Yovo which is the southern word for White person/foreigner and then up North they have Anasara which means the same thing.  That’s what the kids call us all and then they have their song “Yovo, Yovo, bonsoir, ca va bien, MERCI!” It’s cute coming from kids, but is rather annoying and seems more derogatory coming from adults.  But what really annoys me is when they straight up call us Whitey by calling out “La Blanche” or “Les Blancs” when we walk down the street.  I ignore those calls and refuse to respond to them. They can call out Madame if they don’t know me and want to get my attention, that I will respond to.  I’m also making the effort to stop and tell all the kids that I don’t like Anasara and that my name is Kristine or Cililo (my Kabye name).  They’re slowly catching on and starting to call my by one of my names instead of Anasara.  Hopefully with time I can get most of them to stop the Anasaras. What’s funny is they think anyone who isn’t black all looks the same and they can’t tell us apart very well.  So whoever replaces me will be called by my names for probably a very long time.  Just as I was called Stephanie when I first arrived in Tsevie, since that was the volunteer who stayed at my house before me and walked the same path I walked.  It took a while but I finally got most of the kids to start calling me by my name.  I also finally heard the story of why they call the used clothing stores (the stores that sell clothes that come from our Good Will and Salvation Army stores) dead Yovo stores. Apparently huge shipments come in, I think to Ghana, of all of our discarded clothes which to the Togolese are all in very good condition. Not understanding why anyone would give up such nice clothes and so many of them, they assume that the person who owned them must have died.  So they purchase the clothes to resell in Togo in dead Yovo stores.  This becomes more humorous as you see everyone walking around in these types of western clothing, yet what’s funny here is that they don’t understand the shirts or clothing.  So you see lots of people wearing shirts that have English writing on it that is actually really humorous on the person.  An example is that my closest neighbor Virginia one day saw a large Togolese man wearing a bright pink shirt that said “Daddy’s little Princess”.  Everyone seems to have seen these types of spottings, yet I haven’t had the pleasure of catching any shirts like that but I’m on the look out!  I do see lot’s of funny hats on people here though that have come from our discarded clothing.  Like santa hats on men working in the fields or like this week my host brother wearing a little kids hat that had puppy ears on it (he’s 24).  It usually brings a smile to my face, so I really enjoy these sightings.  Although it is also a reminder of how wasteful Americans can be and how much we really do get rid of even though it is still in wearable shape.  But at least someone is getting use out of it still.  
Well this post really just turned out to be a mess of my random thoughts over the last few months.  Moving forward I’ll try to blog a little more frequently, or at least have them written and ready to post on my computer more often so that they flow a little better!  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Officially a volunteer!

So training was pretty busy and often the network was down when I went to the internet cafe or I just chose to go play ultimate frisbee with friends or have a beer instead of getting on the super slow computers, so sorry for the lack of any updates over the last several weeks!  So as of last week I officially finished training and was sworn in as a volunteer and packed up and sent off up country to my little house in Pagouda.  I've been there a week now today and so far all is well.  I have no furniture, just my cot and my gas stove and two wooden chairs I'm borrowing from my host family.  But I have ordered all my furniture and am just waiting on it to be made.  Should have the first 3 pieces on the 30th of August and then the rest will come in Sept.  Still trying to figure out how to get electricity installed in my house, so until then I have to travel about an hour to get to the internet cafe so I probably won't come too often.  Also just because money is a little tight and I tend to spend a lot of money here in the regional capital since I can get so much here I can't get anywhere else; like white cake or chocolate croissants I discovered earlier this week!!!! 

Being in my house has been nice for controlling my eating and getting to cook for myself and eat what I want instead of depending on others to cook for me and being forced to eat what they cook.  You'll all be happy to hear I ate liver and goat at my host family's house and even tried a tiny bit of fish which if you saw the fish here you'd understand just how big of a step that was for me!  But now I'm doing my own cooking so it's a lot of tofu (yay I can get it from my neighbor who makes it at her house!), spagetti, rice, and beans (yes I eat beans now for the sake of getting protein!). I did manage to make tofu fried rice with the soy sauce I found in Lomé the other day and it came out great so I'm really excited now!  I need to start controlling my portions though, I've gotten a little out of hand thanks to how much they fed me during training with my host family!  It's also now more of a challenge to find fruit and veggies up in my village so I really need to watch what I'm eating and make sure I'm getting my nutrients however I can.  So far so good though thanks to the tofu and the bit of veggies I can find and the bananas! 

As for my house I have a fairly sizable house, 3 rooms, one large living/dining room and two bedroom type rooms.  One will be my bedroom, the other will be my kitchen/bathroom/storage room.  I have an outdoor latrine (closed in with a roof and lock) and shower, and that's the only downside really to my house. Otherwise it's very spacious and nice and now that the drop ceiling is in place I don't have to worry too much about mice or other insects coming in from the tin roof.  Will post pictures whenever I'm able to get my own computer online. 

Other than that not much going on.  I have to stay in region for the first three months and am not supposed to work really.  So I don't have a whole lot to do most days, just work on getting my house set up and getting to know the town. I'm starting to do some meet and greet meetings and just sit and watch the work that people do do. However; we're in the rainy season and no one works when it rains so a lot of times things are cancelled due to the rain. Can't wait to come back to the U.S. and explain that I can't work today because of the rain!  There's also a coming of age ceremony going on for young boys in my town that has been going on for a while. They go up to the mountain and dance all day then come down and dance through town in the late afternoon with the boys participating in the ceremony wearing big headresses with, wait for it; baby dolls or stuffed animals in the center of the headress!  I have pics and hope to post as well once I can get my own computer hooked up to the internet.  This ceremony though is another excuse of why nothing is getting down in town.  But it's all good and it's entertaining to watch. 

Well must go, hopefully my next post won't be so long from now!

Monday, June 14, 2010

La via Togolaise!

This will probably be a pretty quick post, but I have 15 mins. left so I'll try to do some sort of update! So I have arrived and it's been a lot going on since leaving DC. I was able to meet Nick for dinner in DC which was awesome, then the next morning we went and got our yellow fever shot then headed to the airport, the rest of the shots we would get in country. We had an 8 hour layover in Paris which became 10 hours after the delay. I was able to run into the city and meet Mia for breakfast which was also a really nice treat before my 2 year departure! After a 6 hour plane ride, we finally arrived in Lomé! 3 days in Lomé was just a lot of initial orientation trainings and shots and hanging around getting to know everyone. We weren't allowed to go anywhere alone or anywhere outside of the hostel or Peace Corps office so I didn't see much.

After Lomé we went to our training sites, health volunteers to Gbatope and business volunteers to Tsevie which is where I am currently. Everyone here has been so so so nice and they're really happy to have us. We get all the kids calling us Yovo, which basically is them calling us white person and they even have a song they sing for us while clapping and dancing, it's so cute! The kids are so excited to see us. My family here is so great and they too are so happy to have me. They do everything for me and won't let me do anything. We have electricity and even a tv, so I've been able to watch the world cup with the dad and my brothers now everyday. No running water, so for those of you wondering, I use a latrine, but a very nice latrine and I take bucket showers within a shower room which is not really that bad at all! My family boils water for me for every shower so I get warm showers which is so nice.

Must go now, but will write more when I can!